Instare in finem – Pressing on toward the Goal

I Skyped for the first time ever tonight. Three young ladies and myself doing a short Latin lesson.  An interesting mixture of the old and the new  — modern technology and an almost ancient language.eduardoruiz - morguefile.com

Latin is NOT for the faint of heart. If you ever decide to take up the study of Latin, I recommend brushing up on high school grammar. The words we “monkey with” the most in English are our verbs. We stick inflections, or word endings, on our verbs to indicate tense. Did something happen in the past? Add an “ed” to the verb. Is one person performing the action? Singular verbs have an “s” on the end. “Easy as pie!” you say.  Latin, however, is a whole new ball of wax.

Latin noun inflections are based on the part of speech or case of the noun in that particular sentence. Is it a subject or predicate nominative? You need Nominative Case. Is it a noun showing possession or ownership? Genitive Case. Is the noun the direct object? Accusative Case. Is the noun an indirect object? Dative Case. Is the noun an object of a preposition? Ablative or Dative Case (no rhyme or reason for which). There is at least one more obscure case that we have not tackled yet, but it’s waiting for us out there in the nether regions of our Latin textbook.

Confused yet? Just wait… In addition to recognizing the correct case of each noun, you also have to pick the correct declension.  Each type noun or case follows a set pattern of inflections called a declension.  There are five of those to choose from.  So it’s not enough to recognize what part of speech your noun is.  You also have to be sure you’re following the correct declension if you hope to spell and thus pronounce it properly.  The dative and ablative case inflections are the same in the second declension, and the genitive and dative are identical in the first and fifth declensions.  However, you are in reasonably good shape if you can determine the genitive case of the noun as this one leads you to the proper declension. Genitive case is our friend.

With all these cases and declensions, it should come as no surprise that there are several different words for any given noun in Latin.  To English speakers, a dog is a dog is a dog. To the speakers of the Latin language, a dog could be a canis, canī (that’s a macron over that last “i”), canem or cane.  And since Latin is in the Romance language family, its adjectives follow the nouns they modify, unlike English. So a big dog to us would be a canis magnus in the Roman Empire. Takes a little bit of getting used to.

Two good things about Latin: 1) You can drop the subject of the sentence as long as it appeared in a prior sentence somewhere in the conversation. (Also takes some getting used to.) 2. There are no silent letters in Latin. There’s also no “juh” sound as in “jam.” No “wuh” sound as in “water” and a “c” is never soft as in “certain” but always hard as in “cow.” Everything makes a sound. Might be part of a dipthong, or a triphthong, but it has a voice. Caesar is not pronounced “seize-her” but “ki-zer” (with a long I) as in “Kyser Wilhelm.”

A word to the wise if you plan to study Latin. Actually several words to the wise: 1) Invest in a good English/Latin dictionary and use a proper curriculum. 2) Forget every Latin word you’ve ever heard in a movie.  Chances are it was mispronounced. 3. Watch lots of Jeopardy.  Everybody needs somewhere to show off their language skills.  Besides, showing off will actually help keep you motivated to slog on when you yourself are on the threshold of descending into whining fits like the teenagers you teach.  Which brings me to a word to the wise to those who teach Latin to whiny teenagers: Invest in earplugs.

“ad destinatum persequor ad bravium supernae vocationis Dei in Christo Iesu.” – Philippenses III:XIV

“I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 3:14